Happy Birthday, KLM

Although the charter for KLM (Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij) was filed in The Hague in October, it wasn’t until May 17 th, 1920 that the first flight of the fledgling airline took place, from London to Amsterdam.

Under the direction of the head of the company, Albert Plesman, KLM made its first flight to the Dutch East Indies, from Amsterdam to Batavia (Jakarta) in 1924. Experiencing engine trouble, the flight took 55 days and included 18 stops along the way.

Always seeking faster and better aircraft, Plesman was convinced that it was possible to fly mail as cargo in passenger planes. Here, in black-and-white is an early mail van at Waalhaven Airfield near Rotterdam. The plane is a Fokker and the pilot is Beekman who not only flew regular routes, but also participated – with many others – as a test pilot for such innovations as retractable gear. (Photo courtesy KLM/MAI.)

Jumping ahead to the end of World War II, Plesman began rebuilding the airline – Schiphol had been bombed to the ground and KLM was an entity mainly on paper – by journeying to the U.S. where he order surplus army aircraft, DC-3s and DC-4s.

Milestones include being just ahead of Air France in being the first mainland Europe airline to begin scheduled service between Amsterdam and New York City.

As the 1950s drew to a close, the age of jet engines dawned. In order to effectively compete, KLM had to invest heavily in new jet-propelled aircraft, and later in wide-body jumbo jets, all of which pushed the airline into the red. Costs were recovered mostly through the airline’s cargo operations. In the mid-1970s the first Boeing 747 Combi (combination) aircraft, with both passenger and cargo areas, was delivered to KLM. The airline still claims the largest Combi fleet in the world.

Shown in the photo here, the airline took delivery of its first Boeing 747-400 full freighter aircraft on April 1, 2003 at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport (Photo courtesy of Capital Photos for KLM.)

A relatively small domestic market and increased competition has led KLM into closer cooperation with other carriers, ranging from Kenya Airways to Nippon Cargo Airlines. On September 30, 2003, KLM merged with Air France, which provides for the Dutch airlines an economy of scale necessary for success.

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